“Hope where there is hardly any reason for hope”

Sebastien Dechamps from Caritas Belgium is in charge of humanitarian aid programs in Syria, including the program co-funded by Caritas Romania in the coastal region of Syria. In June Sebastien Dechamps visited Syria. After his return, we talked to him to learn more about the situation in Syria, the work of Caritas and his own impressions.

Caritas Romania: How is the situation today in Tartous (city in the coastal area, where the Caritas Romania co-funded project is implementd)?

Sebastien Dechamps: Tartous and the coastal areas are not directly affected by fighting, but there are hundreds of thousands of displaced people who came from other parts of Syria. There are hardly any jobs and rents are very high. On the other hand, many young men are conscripted to the military. Everywhere in the city there are pictures of young men who lost their lives in the war. Many families are grieving for someone they lost.

Caritas Romania: What are the main problems, the displaced people are facing?

Sebastien Dechamps: When you ask families what they need most, they will answer that what they desire most is peace. Of course, there are many needs difficult to be satisfied, like paying the rent or health care. What I have observed is that education for their children is becoming more and more a priority for many families. Before the war, the education system in Syria was quite good, but today only 30% of the schools are working. Many of them have been destroyed, others are used as shelter for displaced people. In Tartous it is very difficult for a displaced family to find a place at school for their children. But if the children are out of school for two or three years, they will not come back. There will be a “lost generation” of young people without any school education.

Caritas Romania: Can anything be done to support these children to access education?

Sebastien Dechamps: That is exactly what our colleagues from Caritas Syria try to do in the education component of the program. Caritas provides kits with stationary, money for school uniforms and financial support for students at university. In most cases it is really a question of money: if a family receives a small financial support, they will do everything to send their children to school. Otherwise they will send their children to look for work and to earn some money.

Caritas Romania: Is there any other support, Caritas gives to displaced people in Syria?

Sebastien Dechamps: Caritas supports families to pay for their rents and provides vouchers for food, hygienic materials and clothes. People can use these vouchers in local supermarkets to buy exactly what they need.

Alte organizații distribuie doar pachete de alimente sau haine, dar oamenii apreciază voucherele foarte mult. Prețurile sunt foarte mari în Siria și pentru familiile sărace este chiar o provocare pentru a cumpăra apă sau majoritatea alimentelor de bază.

Other organizations distribute just food baskets or clothes, but people appreciate the vouchers very much. Prices are very high in Syria and for poor families it is even a challenge to buy water or most basic food.

Caritas Romania: You have also been to Aleppo, a city where fighting has stopped only recently. What have you seen there?

Sebastien Dechamps: Aleppo is a completely different reality. It has been incredible and heartbreaking what I have seen there. Huge parts of the city are totally destroyed. People try to resume their lives in what has been left from their homes and some displaced people are coming back. In the coming one or two years much more people will come back to Aleppo. There are massive needs for reconstruction: schools, hospitals, electric systems, homes for people have to be rebuilt.

But amidst all this massive destruction and human suffering I have also seen the wonderful work of Caritas. The team of Caritas Syria in Aleppo visited more than 1,400 families. They distributed food baskets and vouchers, talked to the people and showed their solidarity.

There is a very personal relationship between our Caritas colleagues and these families. For me this has been a strong signal of hope – a sign of bringing hope to places where there is hardly any reason for hope.

Romanian Caritas finances two projects of humanitarian aid for the population affected in the Syrian war. The necessary funds were donated during a campaign organized in the Catholic churches across the country in February.